What’s Eating China: Zhejiang Cuisine

浙江

Zhejiang cuisine (浙菜; Zhècài) originates from the traditional ways of cooking from around the south of Shanghai to the former Chinese capital of Hangzhou. In general, Zhejiang food is not greasy, but has a fresh and soft flavor with a mellow fragrance. The cuisine consists of at least three styles, with each coming from a different city in the province. Hangzhou is characterized by rich variations and the utilization of bamboo shoots. Shaoxing specializes in poultry and freshwater fish. Ningbo specializes in seafood, with emphasis on freshness and salty dishes.

Hangzhou is best known for its stunning West Lake (take a look at your 1 RMB banknote), so it comes as no surprise that some of its popular dishes have names such as (西湖醋魚; xīhú cùyú) West Lake fish in vinegar and (西湖莼菜汤; xīhú chúncài tāng) West Lake chuncai soup—a dish made with the brasenia flower that grows on the water’s surface. Additionally, about half the dishes in the Hangzhou menu contain bamboo shoots, adding a tender element to the food.

There, they remark that the “square of fat is named after Su Tungpo, the poet, for unknown reasons.” Perhaps, it is just because he would have liked it.

The perhaps most acclaimed dish in Zhejiang is Dongpo pork (东坡肉; dōngpōròu), which also has its roots in Hangzhou. The meat is first pan-fried; then, red cooked (a form of braising). The pork belly is cut thickly—about two square inches—and should consist equally of fat and lean meat with the skin left on. The texture is oily, but not greasy and it’s further flavored with wine. The dish is named after the famed Song Dynasty poet and gastronome, Su Dongpo.

Legend has it that during Su Dongpo’s life of poverty—while banished to Hangzhou—he improved on the traditional process of the dish. He first braised the pork, added huangjiu (yellow wine) to make red-braised pork, then slowly stewed it on low heat. In the scholarly work Chinese Gastronomy, Lin Hsiang Ju and Lin Tsuifeng discuss the recipe in “The Fragrance of Pork: Tungpo Pork.” There, they remark that the “square of fat is named after Su Tungpo, the poet, for unknown reasons.” Perhaps, it is just because he would have liked it.

Dongpo Pork experienced three phases of popularity from its first appearance to mainstream appreciation. The history of the dish is said to parallel the experiences of Su Dongpo himself: from Xuzhou, a northern city of Jiangsu province, where Dongpo pork first appeared under the name of Huizeng pork; to Huangzhou, now known as Huanggang in Hubei province, where Su Dongpo finalized the method and recipe; and finally, to Hangzhou, where Dongpo pork was officially named and became widely known across the country.

Chef’s special:
东坡肉 / dōngpōròu / Dongpo Pork
西湖醋魚 / xīhú cùyú / West Lake fish in vinegar
西湖莼菜汤 / xīhú chúncài tāng / West Lake chuncai soup

Where to find it:
Top Bite 最江南
Phone: 8286 3863
Address: 5/F, Tianyicheng, Xicheng Rd, Zhangmutou
樟木头镇西城路天一城5楼

6000 Restaurant 六千馆
Phone: 2863 3828
Address: 2/F, One Mall, First International, No. 200, Hongfu Rd, Nancheng
南城区鸿福路200号第一国际汇一城2楼

See Guangdong cuisine here
See Fujian cuisine here
See Hunan cuisine here
See Jiangsu cuisine here
See Anhui cuisine here
See Sichuan cuisine here
See Shandong cuisine here

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